Illegal tooth whitening exposedWhich? probe finds staff aren't qualified

27 September 2007

 

Dentist

A Which? investigation has uncovered beauty salons allowing unqualified staff to carry out teeth-whitening treatments that can inflict permanent damage.

Clinics across the country are undercutting dentists’ prices and cashing in on the trend for Hollywood-white teeth.

But many employ beauty therapists who, after a few days’ training, apply harmful chemicals that can damage clients’ gums and could land them with hefty fines. This is because, the UK dental regulator says, teeth whitening by non-dentists is illegal.

Beauty salons

In our snaphot survey, our reporter posed as a potential client at six London beauty salons.

All six said that their procedure wasn’t performed by a dentist and half were using dangerous chemicals. We also uncovered misleading advice and the use of whitening ‘lasers’ that have no proven effect.

The General Dental Council (GDC) is now investigating these clinics and has asked us not to name them while enquiries continue.Its President Hew Mathewson and James Goolnik of the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (BACD) looked at our research.

Chemicals

Most tooth-whitening treatments use hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, both proven to bleach teeth. But three salons offered a chlorine dioxide treatment. James said: ‘This chemical is a bleaching agent more commonly used to purify water and is very acidic. It can wreck tooth enamel.’

The other clinics use hydrogen peroxide in strengths from 0.6 to 10 per cent, which are above the legal limit.

Gum disease

Nobody with gum disease should consider teeth-whitening treatment due to the risk of further irritation and ulcerated and receding gums. Two clinics asked to look at our reporter’s gums, but it’s impossible even for a dentistto detectproblems from a quick glance.

Two of the clinics said that impressions of teeth would be taken, which is considered a procedure that should be carried out only by a dentist and therefore illegal if carried out by an untrained person.

Side effects

Most clinics said side effects could include white spots on gums or lips where the bleaching agent leaks from a shield. The clinics suggested that these were a perfectly normal side effect but James said: ‘These are chemical burns and there shouldn’t be any. Peroxide should be nowhere near the lip.’

Half of the clinics we visited advertised ‘laser whitening’ and one even asked whether our reporter was allergic to lasers. Hew said: ‘These lasers are usually just blue lights and there’s little scientific evidence for their added benefit.’

Potential legal action

The GDC believes teeth whitening should be carried out only by a dentist under the Dentists Act and is keen to have its definition tested by successfully prosecuting someone who pleads not guilty to the offence. It is currently investigating 70 clinics.

Ben Nahab pleaded guilty at Norwich magistrates last year to carrying out a whitening procedure, after he burnt the gums of a dental nurse while demonstrating a product, causing serious side effects. He had claimed to be a dentist registered to work in the UK.

We don’t think you should have your teeth whitened by anyone other than a dentist. If treatment goes wrong, contact the GDC at information@gdc-uk.org or on 020 7887 3800.